It’s hard to miss the changes taking place in the 400 block of North Higgins Avenue. Most noticeable is the hip music pouring out of 420 N. Higgins. No, not from the audiophile haven dB Sound, but from the outdoor speakers mounted above the new Starbucks Coffee’s patio, directing the attention of passersby to the latest addition to Missoula’s downtown java scene.
A few days before Friday’s big opening, worker bees inside the Big Green Machine were busy unpacking boxes, arranging plush leather lounge chairs and fine tuning the distinctive earth-toned décor that’s made Starbucks a familiar pit stop in just about every city in America.
But the arrival of Missoula’s fifth Starbucks location has some java drinkers up in arms.
A few doors down, at the newly remodeled Break Espresso, Elie Meierbachtol, a nursing student and loyal Break customer, is huddled over a massive textbook with a cup of chili. She flinches at the mention of Starbucks.
“I hate Starbucks,” she says. “For one thing the atmosphere sucks.”
Meierbachtol admits she doesn’t drink coffee, hot cocoa or tea, thanks, but even if she did, she says she wouldn’t go to Starbucks. The atmosphere at Break—including the occasional David Boone appearance—appeals more to her sensibilities.
Down the road, at Butterfly Herbs—a Missoula fixture since it opened in 1972, less than a year after the first Starbucks opened in Seattle—Jamie Greer contemplates the implications of a new corporate coffeehouse at the north end of the street. He says its appearance signals another step in the “Spokanification” of Missoula.
“If there’s a Starbucks one end, and a Macy’s on the other, what’s to stop Gap from coming next?” Greer wonders.
Then there are those indie coffee shop loyalists who say the uproar over Starbucks is unwarranted. Sitting on a bench in front of their favorite coffee shop, Le Petit Outre, Hellgate High School teachers Bolton Rothwell and Lee Brown sip their double Americanos and consider the impact Starbucks will have on Missoula’s java universe. Rothwell equates Starbucks’ famous green moniker to the familiar Texaco star.
“It’s familiar, when you see it you know where to go to fill up,” he says. As such, Rothwell thinks it’ll draw out-of-towners seeking a known quantity.
“You know what you’re gonna get,” he says.
According to a Starbucks employee at the North Reserve Street store, what Missoula stands to get is a few more good-paying jobs.
“You can work part-time, 20 hours per week, and get full benefits,” said the smiling barista, who didn’t want to be named. “I grew up in Missoula, and that’s a big deal.”